Question: "What does the Bible say about conflict resolution?"
Answer: Conflict resolution in the body of Christ is crucial for several reasons. Avoidance of conflict, with no effort to resolve it, postpones a proper response and exacerbates the problem because conflicts that are allowed to fester unaddressed will always increase and have negative effects on relationships within the body. The goal of conflict resolution is unity, and unity in the church poses a threat to the devil who will use every opportunity to take advantage of unresolved issues, especially those involving anger, bitterness, self-pity and envy. These emotions are the basis for most church conflicts. Scripture tells us that we’re to “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from [us], along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31). Failure to do this results in division in the body of Christ and grief to the Holy Spirit. We’re also told that we’re not to allow a “root of bitterness” to spring up among us, leading to trouble and defilement (Hebrews 12:15). Clearly, a biblical method of conflict resolution is needed.
Although the verses cited in the first paragraph are the two places that expressly deal with conflict resolution, every letter in the New Testament contains at least one command to believers to live at peace with one another. We are repeatedly instructed to love one another (John 13:34; Romans 12:10), to live in peace and harmony with one another (Romans 15:5; Hebrews 12:14), to settle our differences among ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:11), to be patient, kind and tenderhearted toward one another (1 Corinthians 13:4), to consider others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3), to bear one another’s burdens (Ephesians 4:2), and to rejoice in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6). Conflict is the antithesis of Christian behavior as outlined in Scripture.
There are times when, despite all efforts to reconcile, sin issues prevent us from resolving conflict in the church. There are two places in the New Testament that clearly and unambiguously address conflict resolution where sin is involved. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus gives the steps for dealing with a sinning brother. According to this passage, in the event of conflict involving overt sin, we are to address it one-on-one first, then if still unresolved it should be taken to a small group, and finally before the whole church if the problem still remains.
The other passage where this is addressed explicitly is Luke 17. In verses 3-4, Jesus says, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him." An essential part of conflict resolution, according to this passage, is forgiveness. Any kind of disciplinary procedure should always have restoration of the sinning person as the ultimate goal.
The reason conflict resolution is so difficult is that we’re hesitant to place ourselves in uncomfortable situations. We’re also frequently unwilling to humble ourselves enough to admit that we might be wrong or to do what it might take to make amends if we are wrong. Those who do conflict resolution best are often those who would prefer not to confront others about their sin, but still do so out of obedience to God. If the matter is relatively minor, it may be that the best thing to do is to overlook the offense (Proverbs 19:11). If it cannot be overlooked, one must pursue reconciliation. This is such an important issue to God that peace with Him and peace with others are inextricably entwined. We cannot know peace with God unless we are at peace with one another, and we cannot truly know peace with others unless we are at peace with God.